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Learning from the mistakes of others . . .

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When eight windows leaked in a new house extension, the architect instructed the builder to carry out remedial work, but he didn't check it properly.

Subsequently, believing recurring problems to be only minor, the architect not only failed to notify his indemnity insurer, he also assured the client that he would cover any costs of remedy. The terms of his pi cover were thus well and truly breached by what was effectively an unqualified admission of liability.

Three years later, as defects worsened and extensive damage became evident, an expert's report concluded that the contractor had cast in-situ sills rather than incorporating the pre-cast type specified by the architect. The sills were uneven, and back-falls caused puddling of rainwater against the frames.

Furthermore, the windows, judging by their rotten state, had not been adequately treated or prepared. Thus, as a result of both poor workmanship and poor supervision, a convenient path had been provided for water to enter and damage the house.

With the builder in liquidation, the client sued the architect, but the loss adjuster advised the pi insurer to withdraw cover because of the insured's combined failure to notify a possible claim at the appropriate time, and his effective admission of liability.

The architect protested on the grounds that since the problem was perceived as being the builder's, there were no grounds for notification - but in that case, why had he offered to finance repairs himself?

If you want to know what happened next, read 'Botch-up' - No 42 of some 50 accounts of legal disputes involving architects included within Charles McKean's new book, Claim.

While researching some 2165 disputes from the rias Insurance Services' case files during preparation of this book, the author, perhaps surprisingly, found that only 15 per cent of cases related to cost overruns, while another 20 per cent related to site or survey deficiencies, and around 50 per cent arose from errors in specification or detail. The remainder were due to problems with statutory approvals and grants, or just 'sheer gormlessness' - a condition that occasionally affects even architects.

But if you want to take steps to eliminate such failures, Claim is a good, and easy, read, although the cryptic commentaries would have benefited from a fuller analysis and a thorough edit.

Disputes, large and small, commercial and private, are summarised and there is a moral to each story. Such sobering comments as 'record client changes carefully', 'specification is the duty of the architect', 'do not rely on building control', 'know the regulations', 'never commit your client's money without consent', 'beware of failure to spot contractor deviations on site' and 'do not leave important decisions related to a listed building until after planning permission' should reinforce your desire to structure fee agreements that enable you to properly fulfil your duties, while such advice as 'if you wear several hats, don't let one slip over your eyes' will reinforce your instinct to apply good standards of professional conduct.

Sebastian Toombs, in his worthy foreword to this book, writes: 'As with an illness, the pain of dealing with a professional negligence claim can be seen as an opportunity for change and improvement.'

Get McKean and keep it by your bedside . . . a case study a day keeps the insurer away.

Claim is published by Rutland Press

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